Poland, relations with

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Poland, relations with. Poland excited little interest in Britain before the partitions of that country between 1772 and 1795. Although widely regarded as a crime, the first partition was not seen as a threat to the balance of power, though in the early 1790s difficulties with Russia encouraged the British to look to Poland as an alternative economic partner (including naval stores) in the east. During the second and third partitions Britain was preoccupied with the war with revolutionary France, and in 1814–15 Russian military control denied Britain any effective say in the future of Poland. This story was repeated during the uprisings by the Poles against their Russian overlords in 1830–1 and 1863. Palmerston recognized in the second instance that nothing could be done without France, and he feared that Napoleon III might seize the opportunity to make other major territorial changes in Europe.

The upheavals at the end of the First World War enabled Poland to re-emerge as an independent state, but British ministers often thought the Polish leaders reckless and ambitious. The guarantee of Poland in March 1939 owed much to the fear that German expansion in eastern Europe might be the prelude to war in the west. It was still hoped, however, that Hitler could be persuaded to negotiate. Although the German invasion brought Britain into the war in September 1939, it was assumed that Poland could not be saved and that its reconstitution was dependent on an allied victory in the west. Churchill tried to mediate between Stalin and the Polish government in exile in London later in the war, but their aims were incompatible, and diplomacy could not prevent a communist take-over by 1947. The British sympathized strongly with the reform movement (Solidarity) from 1980, but their trading interests conflicted with American efforts to impose sanctions a year later.

C. J. Bartlett